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How Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Head Cooling Works

  • Q: Why is there a need for head cooling and how does it work?
    A: Dr. Kaiser: Most of the babies that we head cool initially have a problem during labor and delivery where they don’t get enough oxygen to the brain. When they’re born we provide critical support including placing them on a ventilator to breathe and giving them intravenous fluid and nutrition because they can’t eat right at the beginning.

    So, sometimes this happens because the placenta (afterbirth) separates from the uterus too soon, or there’s an infection in the uterus, or the uterus ruptures. Sometimes the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. So babies have this initial damage from that event. After this, the brain tries to heal itself, but over next several hours lots more brain cells die.

    When we cool down the brain many of the brain cells that would have died stay alive. The theory is that the cooling basically makes the brain cells go to sleep almost. So after 72 hours of cooling, the brain cells wake up, and they survive, and long-term neurodevelopment is improved
  • Q: What does this mean to my baby?
    A: Dr. Kaiser: More brain cells equals being smarter and being able to run, jump and play – all the normal things that normal kids do. More is ALWAYS better!!
  • Q: What does the cooling cap look like?
    A: Dr. Kaiser: There are two important pieces to head cooling. First, there’s a plastic cooling cap, which has a bunch of tubes in it such that you can circulate really cold water around it. This makes the scalp very cold and the underlying brain very cold. The second piece is the freestanding cooling device (the machine itself), a very fast cooler of water cold water can be circulated around the scalp and then cool down the brain.
  • Q: Once you take my baby for head cooling, will I be able to see him/her?
    A: Dr. Kaiser: You’ll be able to see your child and you’ll be able to touch your baby during the 72-hour cooling period. Your baby is not going to move around very much because of medicines we are providing.
Arkansas Children's Hospital
1 Children's Way
Little Rock, AR 72202-3591

Call: 501-364-1100

New Parent Planner - Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) child care guide.

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